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Bordeaux 2013: More Medoc

Yesterday I wrote mainly about Alfred Tesseron, in particular the early release of his wine, his reasoning and how the négociants responded. As a consequence I glossed over to a large extent the hectic activity of the day as I flew up and down the D2. The morning – all Pauillac – went very smoothly. It was in the afternoon that things started to fall apart. First, I hadn’t realised that the UGC tasting of St Julien, Pauillac and St Estèphe was split into two tastings this year, St Julien now going it alone (there is a story behind this – isn’t there always?). And thus, having finished the Pauillac-St Estèphe tasting, at Château Lafon-Rochet, I needed to find time to go to the St Julien tasting. This meant driving back down to Château Lagrange, which was hosting it. I had two choices; go for it, and risk turning up late at my next appointment, at Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste, or turn up early at Grand-Puy-Lacoste and then see if I can free up time afterwards. I opted for the former.

Happily this worked out alright, and when I turned up only two minutes late at Grand-Puy-Lacoste I was feeling pretty pleased with myself; you know what they say about pride and falls though. Then it was off to Château Calon-Ségur and Château Cos d’Estournel, followed by Château Montrose. It was at this point that my timings started to go awry, and by the time I arrived at my final appointment at Château Montrose the place was entirely deserted. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement; I had been hearing good things about Château Montrose on the rumour mill, and I wanted to see for myself what it was like. And there was no guarantee I would be able to return the next day. Naturally I fired off an email of apology for missing the appointment, not something I have had to do before, and just crossed my fingers that I would be able to get in on Wednesday.
 
Le Retout Blanc

Wednesday morning started with Château Margaux, followed by a blast northwards through Margaux and St Julien, with Château Palmer, Château d’Issan, Château Ducru-Beaucaillou and Château Léoville-Las-Cases. With each appointment I shaved a few minutes off my schedule, freeing up time for a dash northwards to St Estèphe. A quick phone call at midday to Montrose confirmed that I could visit again (thanks Marianne), any time after 4pm. That gave me time to head over to Château Clarke for the UGC Médoc, Moulis/Listrac and Haut-Médoc tasting, followed by Château Marquis de Terme for the UGC Margaux tasting. By this time I had so much time on my hands I headed north to Château Sociando-Mallet, on the last hurrah of the Médoc’s great gravel beds, before than coming back to Château Montrose. Was it worth the dashing about? Absolutely. Not only is the new cellar, upon which I cast my eyes for the first time, cathedral-like in its proportions, the wine is just as good as the rumour mill suggested. And it is not alone in this, there are some good wines in 2013. Of these, many are good but still for relatively early drinking, but quite a few are good, full stop, and that means capable of seeing out some time in the cellar. And with the acidity these wines have, Thomas Duroux of Château Palmer believes they may age better than people expect. With respect to a small subset of wines only – the likes of Palmer, Montrose, Cos d’Estournel, Pichon-Baron – I am inclined to agree with him. For all the other wines, buyer beware. You can find leanness and greenness in this vintage. And I encountered the unmistakeable scent of grey rot today, not only in a cru classé Sauternes but in a red wine too. These are rare wines though. Most wines are clean, with ripe but very fresh fruit, are acid-rich, but just a little too lean.

After Montrose, it was back through the Médoc, stopping off at Château du Retout to taste three vintages of their white wine, the best Bordeaux white you never heard of. The blend is illustrated above (it is Vin de France), and it would wipe the floor with most white Bordeaux. Looking at the back label reminds me of another interesting conversation I had with a gérant yesterday about appellation, white wines, and his interest in planting Chardonnay in Bordeaux, but perhaps that’s a story for another time. After Retout it was on to Château La Lagune, in order to taste the wine, which this year is not being presented at the UGC tastings as they have not blended. Instead, they are presenting four major components of the blend, à la the barrel tasting at Château Climens. This was fascinating, and as you might imagine there was a huge variation acrosst the four samples, with the old-vines Cabernet Sauvignon being my favourite by a country mile. Incidentally, I tasted with Maylis de Laborderie, the new maitre de chai, a dynamic youg woman who came to work at Château La Lagune in September 2013. Having graduated from Bordeaux University in 2011, she has since worked in Oregon, New Zealand, Chile’s Maipo Valley and Côte-Rôtie, which seems like an impressive curriculum vitae by any standards. I finished the day by mopping up in Sauternes, making sure I had tasted everything and retasting a handful.

That done, I headed over to the right bank, where I will put down roots for two days. Thursday morning I kick off at the Moueix offices to taste their wines. Then it’s Vieux Château Certan, Château Église-Clinet, Château Lafleur, Petrus and Château Le Gay – and that’s all before lunch. More Pomerol and some St Emilion in the afternoon. It’s going to be a long day.

Bordeaux 2013: Mainly Pauillac

So Tuesday was the day when I started really getting to grips with the Médoc, with tastings in Pauillac first of all, plus St Estèphe later in the day, and some St Juliens in the middle.

My run of morning and early afternoon appointments would be a treat for any fan of Pauillac, as I visited all three first growths, as well as Château Pichon-Baron, Château Pontet-Canet and Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste. In each case the objective was to taste the wine – obviously – but as I wrote in yesterday’s blog a visit to the châteaux provides an opportune moment to buttonhole the manager, winemaker or proprietor (or all of them together) and find out the nitty-gritty detail. With this there might also come some discussion of the markets, of price, and so on – a little bit of crystal ball gazing. Unusally, this year, at Château Pontet-Canet, we were not looking forward, but looking back, because as I am sure the whole world knows by now, Alfred Tesseron took the unusual decision to release his wine a week before the primeurs tastings officially kicked off. I asked him why he had taken this decision, and how the offer to the négociants had gone.

“I was fed up reading that people were not going to come to Bordeaux to taste the wines”, replied Alfred (pictured below – with biodynamic expert winemaker Jean-Michel Comme). The early release seems to have been his response to the decision by some critics to stay away from Bordeaux, intimating that they had already judged the wines as unworthy. I can understand his response; if critics don’t need to taste the wine in order to be able to judge them, then perhaps they shouldn’t be surprised when the Bordelais decide they don’t need the critics in order to be able to sell them. I can certainly sympathise with his point of view. A lot of effort and investment goes into making a wine such as this and you can’t judge it without tasting, regardless of the horrors of the vintage’s weather, the storms, rain and rot. Anyone who writes off this vintage, even when it comes to the red wines (it seems common knowledge that the whites have done better), has got it wrong. Any critic who writes it off from afar, without tasting the wines, is both wrong and unprofessional.

Alfred Tesseron and Jean-Michel Comme, April 2014
 
I went on to ask him how the offer to the négociants was received. “People [by this Alfred means the négociants to whom he offered the wine] weren’t ready for it at first”, he replied, “but I told them it was alright, they should take their time, come back to me when they were ready”. The time frame was rather tight though, as Pontet-Canet is a popular wine. The offer was made Tuesday morning, and by the close of play on Tuesday Alfred had sold 70% of the offer. Cynical minds will obviously question the size of the offer – we all know the Bordelais can offer very small tranches which unsurprisingly sell out – so I put this question to Alfred. In response, he was quite clear that the entire crop was put on the market. After close of business on day one he left the offer open, but interestingly only to those who had by this time made a purchase; those negociants that showed confidence in Alfred were rewarded, those that stayed away were locked out. The négociants who had made a purchase could now increase the quantity taken by up to 50% if they desired, which he did to ensure the stock distribution would remain fair. Clearly Alfred’s confidence in the wine was rubbing off on the négociants, because they subsequently took up all that was left. By last Friday, the entire harvest was sold.

The next step is of course for the négociants to sell the wine; indeed, I have heard some say that the wine isn’t really ‘sold out’ until the négociants have shifted their stock. I know the price was on the confident side (sorry, I know there is a lot about ‘confidence’ in this post) – Alfred unsurprisingly cited the small harvest as one of the considerations when setting the price – but with small volumes made I wonder if this will really be that difficult? The one piece of evidence that makes me lean this way is that the négociants all came back for more. With your allocation of the 2014 and 2015 secured through a purchase of the 2013, why bite for more unless you thought you could sell it? An even bigger allocation? Possibly, I suppose.

Tasting in the Médoc today, from petits châteaux up to first growths, seemed to reveal something even more interesting about this vintage. This is not a year in which success depended solely on terroir, but perhaps more on effort (the ability and financial strength to select) and the ability to make the right decisions in the winery. I have tasted petits châteaux and lesser classed growth wines, super-seconds and first growths that seem to have got it just right, with surprising texture and tangible substance. And I have tasted petits châteaux and lesser classed growth wines, super-seconds and first growths that seem to have missed the target slightly. Some seem to have shot far wide of the target in fact, but then again some have had a fairly disastrous vintage, with rotten Merlots and rain-sodden harvests. For example, Château Pichon-Lalande in 2013 is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, a rare beast in Bordeaux. But when they get it right, as a handful have done, the wines have real appeal. I didn’t think I would be writing this, but what has been achieved on some estates in the face of such a difficult vintage beggars belief. There are some delicious, charming wines in 2013. Just some, mind; there are also a lot of lean, bare-boned wines, acid-dominated wines. It was a year when the châteaux had to select carefully and rigorously; consumers looking to buy must do the same.

Wednesday’s programme kicks off at Château Margaux, hopefully followed by Château Palmer and Château d’Issan, Château Ducru-Beaucaillou and Château Léoville-Las-Cases, If I can fit all those into one morning without turning up late to the last one, I will be doing well.

Bordeaux 2013: Pessac, Sauternes

I tend to run my primeurs week on the same sort of timetable each year. That statement makes me sound like some sort of old hand who has been coming here for five decades, but that certainly isn’t the intention. But I have been out here every year since 2007, not as long as some I know, but in the last two years I have definitely found myself in a fairly fixed routine. And yesterday was Monday, so for the moment that means Pessac-Léognan and Sauternes. I might change things around next year, although it is hard not to take advantage of the fact that the Pessac-Léognan syndicat tastings start on the Monday, while the UGC tastings don’t kick off until Tuesday.

I was at Château La Mission Haut-Brion at 8am, where the red wines were good especially when taking into account the difficulties of the vintage, although they were eclipsed by the white wines, which were full of charm and energy. As with other difficult vintages, including 2012 and 2011, the earlier-harvested white varieties outclass the reds; the cooler weather kept the acidities prominent, fine for white wines, but not so desirable in the reds. Having said that, the wines here were some of the better red wines I have tasted, especially Château Haut-Brion.

Then it was on to Château Carbonnieux for the Pessac-Léognan press tasting. I arrived at 10am, half an hour after the tasting started, and yet I was the first person to walk through the door. By the time I left at 12:30pm no more than eight tasters had been and gone. Is this a reflection of the level of interest in 2013, I wonder? Whatever the reason, the tasting environment was as a result fabulous – it was bright, calm and free of disturbance (although it was also a little cold in the tasting room, an empty barrel cellar) – but it’s a great shame for those who provided their samples for the tasting to be so poorly attended. Perhaps numbers will pick up later in the week. Strangely, two significant châteaux were missing, Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte and Château Haut-Bailly. So once finished I nipped over to Château Malartic-Lagravière where the trade tasting was being held; I also thought this was less busy then usual – I have attended the trade tasting before and found it elbow-room only at times. I soon found Smith-Haut-Lafitte which was duly tasted in red and white, but still no Haut-Bailly. Eight minutes later I was at Château Haut-Bailly, where I succeeded in interrupting their lunch, sans-rendezvous (oops – I am always uncomfortable turning up without an appointment), in order to taste the wine. So I worked hard for my Haut-Bailly tasting note this year! As it turned out though, Château Haut-Bailly are participating in all the appropriate tastings, but only from the Tuesday, which is when the primeur tastings really kick off. As my only day in Pessac-Léognan was on the Monday, I was fortunate that they were so welcoming at the château in allowing me to taste.

Then it was on to Sauternes. I stopped off first to take a few photographs around Pessac-Léognan, as I had a thirty-minute gap in my schedule, but by 3pm I as at Château Climens. Like the Pessac tasting it was very quiet here – I was the only taster again – and I walked and tasted with Bérénice Lurton for the best part of an hour before a horde of tasters suddenly turned up, all eager to fit in Climens as their last appointment, I suspect. We first did a quick stock-take of this year’s plants, drying in the tisanerie, ready for going into the biodynamic brews that are used here; the marigolds (pictured above), freshly picked, were drying in the sunlight beneath the window. This walk-round soon developed into an impromptu competition to see who could best translate the names of the plants from French into English. I was taken to the cleaners; Bérénice won, I lost count somewhere about 12-2.

Then it was downstairs for a tasting from the barrels. I remember the first time I heard of Bérénice’s preference for tasting individual barrels rather than an assemblage. It seemed a pretty unusual approach which obviously hindered forming an opinion on the new vintage’s wine. How can you assemble and score eight or more barrel tasting notes? In more recent years, however, I have completely changed my tune on this, and my feelings reflect my thoughts on the usefulness of the primeur tastings. I know many critics see these tastings as an opportunity purely to provide buying guidance; 400 wines are tasted, the favourite 100 (or maybe all of them) written up, scores are assigned, and it is down to the consumer to choose whether or not to buy. Job done, said critic moves on to doing the same with Barolo, or Beaujolais, or maybe various vintages of Buckfast. Fair enough. But the tastings provide a much broader education if you look for it, and this can provide a much greater depth of knowledge than a string of isolated tasting notes, which I choose to communicate to my readers in my primeur report; this is why my communal reports always have several pages of background information – chats with the proprietors, harvest dates and anecdotes from the growing season and harvest, opinion from the winemaker and so on – as well as my appropriately detailed tasting notes and scores.

Anyway, back to Climens. The tasting is informative because regardless of how much you might hear or read about the Sauternes harvest, the waves of botrytis, the concentration (or lack of it) from wind and sunshine, the pickings or tries as they are known, the sorting and so on, unless you are there when the decisions are made, or can at least taste the results of these tries, it is all just second-hand information. Unless you are somebody like Bill Blatch (of Bordeaux Gold), who resides in the region and who lives and breathes Sauternes, who visits the châteaux regularly especially around harvest time, tasting the barrels with Bérénice is the only way to gain a real first-hand insight into the significance of the various tries. I would never now miss visiting Château Climens during the primeurs; there is just too much that can be learnt here to miss out. Nothing could lodge the significance of the first tri against the second and third tries more than actually tasting them.

After Climens, it was a quick dash down to Château Raymond-Lafon, another favourite visit of mine, before heading back to my accommodation for the night. On Tuesday, I kick off with Château Latour, a visit I know some now miss out as a consequence of this estate having withdrawn from releasing en primeur after the 2011 vintage. Again, it all boils down to how you view the tastings; purely a chance to generate notes and numbers, or a chance to understand the vintage in more depth? If the latter, how do you place the wines of Pauillac into context if you don’t taste Latour?

Happily, it’s a 9am start, a bonus after my 8am start at La Mission Haut-Brion. An extra hour in bed!

Bordeaux 2013: Around St Emilion

On Sunday I spent the day in and around St Emilion; it was more a question of what tasting opportunities were available, rather than picking and choosing. Normally I would have gone to the tasting held by Vintex Vignobles Grégoire, a good négociant, but this wasn’t on this year. And so I headed over the right bank, for two significant tastings.

I kicked off with La Grappe, an annual tasting hosted by Château Gaffelière but featuring the wines of the châteaux to which Stéphane Derenoncourt consults. The tasting featured 54 wines, poured by Simon Blanchard and Frédéric Massie, two of Derenoncourt’s team, and both good guys. The tasting was right-bank heavy, as you might expect, although the team also consult to a number of left-bank properties, including Château Talbot and Château Poujeaux, among a few others.

Château Bellefont-Belcier

Then it was on to Château Bellefont-Belcier (pictured above), for the Cercle Rive Droite and Cercle Rive Gauche tastings. All told there were 188 wines here for tasting, just a little too many (by just a teensy-weensy amount) to get through in just one afternoon. I probably tasted another 50 or 60, focusing on the right bank, not just Pomerol and St Emilion, but also Fronsac, Castillon and the satellite appellations.

Obviously I can’t report on all these wines individually here, but I shall write them up as soon as possible for my Bordeaux 2013 report, begining next week. It is certainly a variable vintage, although whereas I found some good (but not truly great) wines in among the Sauternes on Saturday, this was a more difficult task in today’s tasting of reds. The 2013 vintage was a very difficult one, described here in Bordeaux as “the worst in a generation” or the “worst in my lifetime” (which it is seems to depend on the age of the individual giving their opinion more than anything else) and this certainly comes through when tasting the wines. Having said that, of course, Sunday’s tastings were not rich in cru classé level wines; there were a few (Chevalier, Clos Fourtet, those mentioned above), but not many. I will be able to form a better opinion on this over the next few days, as I hit Pessac-Léognan (on Monday) and the Médoc (Tuesday and Wednesday), followed by a return to the right bank on Thursday. I start at 8am on Monday, at Château La Mission Haut-Brion.

Bordeaux 2013: A Sauternes Start

Time for a litte Sunday morning news. Well, it’s Sunday morning here in Bordeaux, and I spent most of yesterday travelling – an early start for a flight down to London, quite a lot of hanging around at Gatwick airport, and then another flight over to Bordeaux. Happily all went smoothly, and I was settled into my hotel by 4pm. Unfortunately, that didn’t leave a lot of time for tasting.

What to do with my evening then? While some might have danced and drank the hours away at the inauguration party for the new cellars at Château Angélus (pictured below – when I passed by in October last year), I tend to avoid the schmoozing seduction of the parties, grand dinners and similar fêtes that characterise the primeurs week. The Bordelais are very good at this sort of thing, and it is an important part of their relationship with the wine trade. But critics, in my opinion, should consider themselves distinct from the trade. I’m here to taste the wines and report without undue influence. Besides, as we will see, perhaps I just can’t handle the late nights any more.

Château Angélus

Instead, I spent the evening with Bill Blatch, tasting through about 30 Sauternes from the 2013 vintage, from entry-level wines such as Château Partarrieu and Château de Veyres up to grand cru wines including Château Suduiraut, Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey and others. These were then followed by a selection of older wines, all of which had been provided by the châteaux. Unfortunately, we had only really started on these when I had to call it a day, unfortunately missing out on some older bottles, back to the 1960s. I had been travelling since 4am, so I hope I am forgiven this early finish – as I said above, it looks like I just can’t hack them any more!

At the top end the Sauternes of 2013 were very good, very pure in style, with a lot of energy from the acidity – this is an acid-rich vintage. But there are those that show the weaknesses of the vintage, especially at the lower end. Some are ‘fresh’ to the point of being leafy, minty or infused with menthol scents. Others show a saline, salty mineral edge which would probably be delicious in Muscadet, but it doesn’t seem to work here. One or two were unclean, a little grey rot mixed with the botrytis (which was plentiful in 2013), but this problem was confined to the lower price-bracket wines, so this isn’t a re-run of the 2012 vintage, where there were many grey-rot flops. It’s a vintage where there are good wines to be had at the top end, but it is not a buy-blind vintage either. So it is not a repeat of 2001/2009/2010/2011 then.

Today, I’m planning on heading over to taste the wines of Stéphane Derenoncourt first of all, probably followed by some from the Cercle Rive Droite at Château Bellefont-Belcier. Well, we’ll see how the day goes.

2014 Subscriptions

It has been almost one year now since I changed Winedoctor to a pay-to-view site. On the anniversary of my subscription service’s ‘birth’, which is March 31st, I will be in Bordeaux for the 2013 primeurs. On the day in question I have appointments at Château La Mission Haut-Brion (pictured below), Château Carbonnieux for a tasting of 2013 Pessac-Léognan, Château Climens, Château Raymond-Lafon and one or two other châteaux, and so I think I am going to be rather busy (althought that’s a quiet day, actually). But I can’t let the end of this first year drift by without making any comment. And if I’m going to be too busy next Monday, I will just have to say it now.

First I would like to thank everybody who has subscribed during the past twelve months. For some of you, that was on March 31st 2013 – I hadn’t even finished putting the system fully in place before the first payment came in – for others it was as recently as yesterday. I am grateful for every subscription and hope everybody who shows their support for Winedoctor in this way finds something of use within. I have been deeply humbled by the number of subscriptions received – exactly (on the nose, in fact) twelve times more than my year-one/break-even target. I never dreamed I would have such support. Thank you again!

Château La Mission Haut-Brion, April 2013

Secondly, I would like to announce that there will be no price increase for new or repeat subscriptions during 2014. The fee remains £45 per annum, equivalent to £3.75 per month (see here for what this gets you if you don’t subscribe). In addition, all the discount opportunities for IMW, WSET and AWE students, educators and similar have been reconfirmed. Current subscribers who wish to continue should be able to do this without any problem from within their account, once logged in (you can still log-in to the account page even if the subscription has lapsed). If you have any difficulties, please let me know by email. As those of you who have been in touch with me by email will know, I’m usually fairly quick to respond, but I will be checking emails infrequently during the primeurs, so can’t promise a perfectly timely response during next week.

Lastly, a quick word on next week’s updates. As is usual I don’t make updates to the paywall-protected part of the site during the primeurs week – it’s just too busy to taste all day (I kick off at La Mission Haut-Brion at 8am on Monday) and then write something of the required standard for the site as well. I will try to blog daily though, with lighter commentary, news, pictures and brief impressions from the tastings. It should be an interesting vintage to taste. The word ‘interesting’ can mean very different things at different times, I suppose.

Thanks to all again. Here’s to a great 2014, and a great year full of wine!

Pontet-Canet 2013: First Out

It is only a few days until I leave for Bordeaux to taste the 2013 barrel samples, and – as if we expected something else – this vintage is already shaping up to be an unusual and distinctive one. That much became apparent this morning, with the first significant release of the vintage, from Château Pontet-Canet. We have seen some long, drawn-out campaigns in recent years, fair enough in a great vintage perhaps, but neither 2011 nor 2012 merited such behaviour. I doubt very much 2013 does either. The release of the 2013 Pontet-Canet this morning, before the primeur tastings have even begun, is perhaps an indication that Alfred Tesseron and Jean-Michel Comme feel the same way.

When I spoke with Jean-Michel Comme (pictured below) just as the harvest had been completed in October last year it was clear it had been a difficult vintage for them. The yields were way down at 15 hl/ha, less than half the 34 hl/ha that was achieved in the 2012 vintage (also not an easy year). The major problem was a long, cool and wet spring, producing every flowering problem imaginable, hence the low yield. And the vines simply never caught up, despite good weather in July. Then came the rain and the rot at harvest, forcing picking before it was ideal. Pauillac also bore the brunt of one of the two major storms of 2013 of course, although on the whole damage was reported to trees and buildings rather than the low-lying vines (this wasn’t the same hailstorm that devastated the vineyards of the Entre-Deux-Mers by the way – that was a week or so later).

Jean-Michel Comme, October 2013

What does the release of 2013 Pontet-Canet tell us? First there is the timing. Is it really that Tesseron and Comme want a quick campaign for the 2013 vintage, or is it more to do with generating a little interest and trade before the scores are out? And if the latter, whose scores are they worried about? Parker isn’t going to taste the primeurs this year, and although there will by many other voices commenting on the wines in the next few months, there is no-one wielding the same level of power (by far). Whatever the reason, this is certainly not a vintage to buy blind, even with a top-performing estate such as Pontet-Canet. It is probably not a vintage to buy en primeur at all, although I will reserve definitive judgement on that until I have tasted.

Second, there is the price. The release price of 2013 Pontet-Canet is 60 Euros, the same as the 2012 vintage, and this price can be interpreted in several different ways. On the one hand, a dramatically reduced price would have indicated that the wine was of a lesser quality, and so matching the 2012 does perhaps express some “confidence” in the wine, which was how Jean-Michel said he felt about it when I met him (although this was just after harvest, and the fruit was not long in the vats, and so I’m not really sure what else he could have said at the time). But then, on the other hand, with yields slashed by half, many winemakers would reason that with reduced volumes to sell, prices should rise. If the quality was really there, surely that would have been the way to go? Instead they have gone for the middle ground.

The price of 2013 Pontet-Canet looks like a real tester for the market. With a price comparable to that of the 2012 (on which notes and scores are available of course), serious doubts about the vintage as a whole and no influential opinions/scores to sell the 2013 on, it will be difficult to see the trade taking this first release up in any quantity. This is a vintage where serious price reductions and good independent opinion are essential, and we have neither here; I expect it will be hands-off-wallets all round.

One for the Luneau-Papin fans

During the Salon des Vins de Loire I stopped off at the Luneau-Papin stand. Well, you have to, don’t you? The Luneau-Papins are gracious, welcoming people, Pierre is always smiling, Pierre-Marie always laughing. They always seem so happy and relaxed in what they do, and yet they are clearly dedicated and precise individuals who don’t pull any punches when it comes to viticulture and fruit selection; it is no accident that these are some of the best examples of Muscadet in existence.

I stopped off to taste, and was taken aback by what came out onto the tasting counter. It was the famed Cuvée L d’Or, but not as you or I know it. It has undergone a makeover; gone is the traditional somewhat angular Muscadet bottle, and the old fashioned label. In its place is what the Luneau-Papin’s refer to as a ‘sommelier‘ bottle, and a more minimalist label, which also highlights the terroir of origin, the granite of Vallet, a commune just to the south of Le Landreau where the Luneau-Papins are based.

Luneau-Papin - the new L d'Or label

The new label states that the wine is Muscadet Sèvre et Maine (and not sur lie) which initially raised my suspicions that it was not just the label that had changed, but the wine too. Are the Luneau-papin’s moving L d’Or to a long lees-aged style, I wondered, akin to the crus communaux wines? I probably shouldn’t have worried, as the wine is already in bottle, and of course cru communal wines usually see 24 months sur lie. But I checked all the same, and it was confirmed that this is just a label change, the wine itself – the vineyard of origin, the fermentation, bottling and so on – are all exactly as they once were.

And as for the taste – it’s superb, as you might expect from the 2012 vintage. Definitely one for the Luneau-Papin fans, and indeed anybody who loves vibrant, fresh and minerally wine. Now, where can I get some?

To Sancerre! And Other Places!

Last year I paid Saumur and Saumur-Champigny a little more attention than usual, as I wanted to update my knowledge of the region and its wines. I wrote about why I felt I needed to reacquaint myself with this particular part of the Loire in my blog post that introduced my series of updates, tasting reports and new profiles, entitled Saumur-Time, and the living….. I guess I should apologise now for the cheesy title, which of course references the Gershwin song, of which Ella Fitzgerald’s is the version I am most familiar with. I’m sorry; I will try and refrain in future.

I had no real intention to revisit Saumur-Champigny this year, and indeed because I missed the third day of the Salon des Vins de Loire due to illness, I missed out on tasting with favourites that I regularly check up on, such as Thierry Germain, Jean-Pierre Chevalier, Philippe Vatan and Antoine Sanzay. I will have to try and rectify this later in the year. Because I spent longer at the Renaissance tasting this year, though, there will be some updates on Saumur, in particular featuring the very appealing wines of Clos Mélaric, made by Aymeric Hilaire. This is a new domaine to me, and one where I was impressed by the wines. Watch out for them (and for my profile).

Les Monts Damnés, Chavignol, October 2013

Anyway, I digress. This year I have decided to pay more attention to upgrading and expanding my coverage of the Central Vineyards, a part of the Loire Valley I have neglected for too long. I thought I might name the series of articles Yours Sancerrely….. no, sorry, I did promise. This wouldn’t cover it anyway, as I will look beyond Sancerre to Pouilly-Fumé, Menetou-Salon and other neighbouring appellations. Many of the updates and profiles will be combinations of tastings at the Salon des Vins de Loire or elsewhere, together with tastings, information and photographs from visits to the region last October, when I took in Reuilly, Menetou-Salon, Sancerre (including stops in Sancerre itself, Bué and Chavignol) and Pouilly-Fumé. Pictured above is Les Monts Damnés, which rises above the village of Chavignol.

Briefly, expect new tasting reports and new or overhauled profiles for Domaine Vacheron, Alphonse Mellot, Vincent Grall, Vincent Pinard, Sébastien Riffault, Gérard Boulay, Henri Bourgeois, François Crochet, Pascal & Nicolas Reverdy, Pierre Martin (all Sancerre), Masson-Blondelet, Tinel-Blondelet, Didier Daguneau, Thierry Redde, Alexandre Bain, Château de Tracy (all Pouilly-Fumé), Philippe Gilbert, Henry Pellé, La Tour Saint-Martin (all Menetou-Salon), Denis Jamain and Claude Lafond (both in Reuilly, and I’ve actually kicked off this week already, with the latter of these two). As I currently have about 30 tastings still scribbled in my notebook, and not yet typed up, there may be others I have overlooked, but I think this is all. And it’s probably enough to be getting on with.

Banned from Tasting 2013 Domaine Huet

One of the highlights of the Salon des Vins de Loire is getting to grips with the latest releases from Domaine Huet. Long regarded as the appellation leader, alongside Philippe Foreau (Domaine du Clos Naudin), the wines made here ever since Victor Huet acquired the estate in 1928 have defined what it is for a wine to be Vouvray. They are benchmarks for the appellation, prize examples of what can be achieved with a biodynamically-managed vineyard (this has been the case since the late-1980s) even in a cool climate, and quite rightly the domaine has risen to the top in the region on the back of these successes. On turning up at the Domaine Huet stand at the 2014 Salon des Vins de Loire, however, I was told that I was not permitted to taste the 2013 vintage.

Before I explain how this came about, and why I won’t be making my usual post-Salon report on the Huet tasting (it is usually one of the first reports I write), a little background information. I first visited the Loire Valley in 1993, and even on that first visit my main focus was the wine. Even on some of my earliest visits I called in on Domaine Huet, and I still have some wines in the cellar, from the 1989 and 1993 vintages, acquired during those visits. With time the visits to the Loire and to Vouvray in particular became more regular, and as my obsession with wine evolved and I began writing about it online, eventually I became what can only be described as a wine critic. In doing so I tasted more and more wines from Domaine Huet, not only on visits to the domaine but also at the Salon des Vins de Loire (with Noël Pinguet at first, more recently after Noël’s departure with Benjamin Joliveau), as well as a notable tasting of demi-sec wines in London with Noël a few years ago. My profile of Domaine Huet is the largest of all my Loire profiles (first published eleven years ago, now expanded to eight pages) with nine separately published ‘tasting updates’ added to Winedoctor over the years, and over two hundred tasting notes all told, from 2012 back to the 1949 vintage. A look through any of these articles would make clear how highly I have rated the wines over the years. Unsurprisingly, during this time the number of Huet wines in my cellar grew, not only with the addition of recent vintages, but back-filling older ones too, as I was keen to enhance my understanding of the domaine. The oldest wine in my cellar is a 1946 Huet.

In all cases these reports were dispassionate judgements on the wines; they were not praised out of loyalty, or love of the Loire, or of Vouvray, or the domaine, but because the wines deserved it. To write usefully about wine – or indeed any aspect of modern culture that attracts the ‘critic’ – I am certain that you have to, above all else, be true to yourself. You have to say what you really feel about the wine in question, and that is exactly what I was doing, giving praise where praise was due. With the 2012 vintage I saw something different in the wines though; they lacked the usual Huet grace and substance, reflecting what had been a difficult vintage for the region. Against the backdrop of all my previous reports on the wines of Domaine Huet, and in the context of an extensive four-page report which also focused on the sec and pétillant wines of the 2002 vintage (where some in the USA have reported premature oxidation, although I found no systematic problem), sec cuvées from other recent vintages (2010 back to 1995, featuring some excellent wines) and recent pétillant releases (2007 back to 2001, again, lovely wines) I stated that I did not like the two wines tasted from the 2012 vintage, that it had indeed been a tough year for the team at Huet, and my tasting notes made clear why. My comments were direct, not mealy-mouthed, but were carefully considered. Nobody would mistake my words for the work of Ambrose Bierce or AA Gill, that’s for sure. I concluded with an open question on the 2013 vintage, and looked forward to tasting it at the Salon.

Turning up at the Salon des Vins de Loire hoping to do just that, I was taken inside the Domaine Huet stand (a fairly grand affair) by Sarah Hwang, current president of Domaine Huet. Expecting to hear some information on the 2013 vintage, I opened my laptop, but I was asked to close it as Sarah informed me that we should talk now, and I could type later. It was made clear that my opinions on the 2012 vintage weren’t welcome, as I was asked “just where do you think you’re coming from with what you write about Domaine Huet” and accused of not engaging with “the spirit” of the domaine or appellation. In a series of quick-fire questions I was quizzed on who I knew at the domaine (my tastings have always been with Noël Pinguet or Benjamin Joliveau, as described above, but it seems I am supposed to know the whole team to be able to comment on the wines) and whether or not I even knew who the winemaker was. When I asked who, if not Benjamin Joliveau, the winemaker was (Benjamin has told me, during previous tastings, that he was now winemaker after Noël’s departure), instead of a simple answer (apparently Jean-Bernard Berthomé, the hugely experienced cellar-master, now has this title) I received more questions fired back at me. I was even quizzed on whether or not I had taken photographs of Huet vineyards, as if that was somehow inappropriate. In the culmination of what felt like a long conversation, but which probably lasted mere minutes, I was accused (after stating that I will always write for my subscribers first and foremost) of “using” Domaine Huet merely to build Winedoctor subscriber numbers.

Oscar Wilde once said “the critic has to educate the public; the artist has to educate the critic” and I think he had that right; I’m always willing to be educated, which is why I try to meet as many growers as possible, to hear about their vineyards and their philosophies, and to taste their wines. But this was not an educational meeting, as it much more resembled a dressing-down. When it seemed as though we had reached a stalemate I asked whether I could taste the 2013 vintage. The answer was no. And at that point I left.

As a consequence, I am currently unable to report on the 2013 vintage at Domaine Huet, and will crack on with my proposed Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé (and Menetou-Salon and Reuilly) updates and reports instead. I will continue to provide tasting reports on the many older wines from my cellar, and in order to keep up to date with recent releases I will look for other tasting opportunities, which may well involve buying newly released bottles on the open market. I am not sure if the ban is a permanent one, but I certainly don’t feel that I would be welcome at Domaine Huet at the moment. I sincerely wish all the Huet team, including Jean-Bernard Berthomé, Benjamin Joliveau and Sarah Hwang all the best for great success in future vintages. Their wines have given me (and so many thousands of others) so much joy over the years and I am sure with continued good efforts from the team, and with more favourable vintages in the future (I am told by a reliable palate that the 2013s are pretty good, by the way), there is no reason to see why that success will not continue into the future.